Muhammad Ali sounded as if he wished he were Pele, whose soccer farewell will occur today with festive elegance. “It’s important to get out with the title, with the briefcase, with the necktie.” (Pele visited Ali at his hotel the day before.)
The world’s two most famous athletes had never met until the 36-year-old soccer player visited the 35-year-old heavyweight champion. And if there is anything that will convince Ali to retire, at least until he makes a come back sooner or later, it might be watching the celebration of Pele’s departure.
The difference is that Pele, organized and wealthy, can afford to retire, while Ali, disorganized and a man who will always need another payday, really can’t afford to retire despite having earned more than $40 million in the ring.
Ali isn’t broke. He won’t end up like Joe Louis did. But the way he lives, he’ll always need big money. And boxing is the easiest, if not the only way, for him to make big money and stay on the big stage his ego demands.
“There comes a time when every fighter walks a tightrope, and sooner or later he falls off. This will happen to Muhammad Ali, as it happens to all great fighters. I wish he calls it a day before he falls off. I told Herbert Muhammad (Ali’s manager) that Madison Square Garden will never make Ali and offer to fight again as long as I’m here.” (Teddy Brenner promoter). “If Madison Square Garden wants him back, they will have to replace me to do it.”
“Arum says Ali’s fighting Leon Spinks,” the Garden Promoter said with a sneer. “If anybody ever suggested years ago that Ali would fight a kid with five pro fights, they’d be locked up. I don’t want to make a match like that.”
Ali lost a split decision to Spinks in 1978 (although he won back the title seven months later). He came out of retirement to lose to Larry Holmes and, a year later in 1981, to Trevor Berbick before finally hanging up the gloves.
ex NYT Anderson 10/1/77